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Copyright free and Creative Commons resources: Fundamentals of copyright

Contains the series of library guides for copyright free & cc audio visual, images and music.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a type of Intellectual Property, like trademarks or patents. It is designed to encourage creativity by giving creators exclusive rights over anyone copying, publishing or distributing their work. This means the creator can licence or get payment for copies of their work. It is also meant to increase public access to works, because authors are more likely to publish if their work is protected.

Australian copyright law is contained in the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth) and court decisions. This legislation balances the right of copyright owners to control use of their work, with access to information by the community.

What is protected by copyright?

Copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. For a work to receive copyright protection it must be 'original' and it must be 'reduced to material form' but there is no requirement that the work have literary or artistic merit in order to attract copyright protection. To be considered 'original' requires only that the author of the work has used some skill, ingenuity and labour in making the work, not that the thought or idea embodied in the work be novel or new. Copyright is divided into 'works' and 'subject matter other than works'. Works inlude:

  • literary works means any text including monographs, periodical articles, reports, computer programs, poems, lyrics and tables

  • dramatic works, that is scripts and choreography

  • musical works or musical compositions in written form

  • artistic works including photographs, diagrams, cartoons, illustrations, maps, graphs, building plans, sculptures and drawings.

'Subject matter other than works' include:

  • sound recordings

  • cinematographic films

  • television and sound broadcasts (including cable and satellite transmissions) and

  • published editions of works (the printed layout of a publication).

The copyright in 'subject matter other than works' is independent of rights in the literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works within these items. This means obtaining permission from each of the copyright owners of the separate works. For example, a television broadcast of a film attracts its own copyright. So too does the film that is broadcast.

Do I need to register copyright in my work?

No. Under Australian law, copyright protection arises automatically. There is no registration process in Australia. Because Australia has signed international intellectual property treaties, works attracting copyright protection here in the Australia are similarly protected in other countries.

Do I need the copyright symbol © on my work?

Copyright protection is automatic on creation, so you don't need a copyright statement to claim copyright. However, an assertion of copyright (e.g. copyright symbol, owner name and date of creation) is evidence of copyright ownership of the work and reminds people accessing the work that it is protected by copyright. Note that all Monash University owned materials, especially webpages and course materials, should include a suitable copyright statement.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright usually lasts for the period of the life of the author plus 70 years. If a work is unpublished and the author is not known, then copyright lasts 70 years after creation. The term of duration for copyright may differ from one country to the next. You would need to consider copyright in the country you are publishing in and where it might be accessed, as well as where you live. Once the copyright in a work has expired the work may be used freely by anyone.

When copyright is expired the work is in the public domain. Public domain does not mean 'publicly available' or 'available online'. Most online work will not be in the public domain because it was created recently. Changing a work in the public domain can create a new copyright work. For material that includes several copyright works, the copyright must be expired in each work before the material is entirely public domain.

  • Published literary works

  • Published dramatic works

  • Published musical works (written music)

  • Artistic works (except photos taken before 1 January 1955)

 Some Type of Material  Period of Protection
  • All published works where the author died before 1 January 1955
  • No longer protected by copyright. Work is in the public domain
  • 70 years after creator’s death
  • No longer protected by copyright. Work is in the public domain 
  • Photos taken before 1 January 1955
  • No longer protected by copyright. Work is in the public domain
  • Anonymous and pseudonymous works
  • 70 years after the year of publication
  • Published editions
  • 25 years after edition was first published
  • Sound recordings made before 1 Jan 1955
  • No longer protected by copyright. Work is in the public domain
  • Sound recordings made after 1 Jan 1955
  • 70 years after recording is first published
  • Cinematograph films
  • 70 years after film is first published
  • Television and sound broadcasts made before 1 May 1969
  • Not protected
  • Television and sound broadcasts made on or after 1 May 1969
  • 50 years after material is first broadcast
  • Works made by more than one person (i.e. joint authors)
  • 70 years after death of last remaining author
  • Moral rights of authors/creators
  • 70 years after death of author/creator.
    NOTE: the right of integrity for films lasts for the life of the creator only.

What is copyright infringement?

An infringement of copyright occurs where a substantial part of the work or other subject matter is copied, reproduced, published, performed or communicated without permission or a relevant copyright exception. 'Substantial part' is not defined in the Copyright Act, but courts have stressed it is the quality of what is used rather than the quantity, that is significant.

In universities, staff and students will be reproducing copyright material (copying and downloading, including automatic copies made from websites when browsing online) communicating the material (sending articles through email, uploading material to a website) performing the material (showing items in class or reading passages aloud) and publishing the material (including placing something on social media). Any of these acts done without permission or an exception could be infringement.

Some items may have several layers of copyright within the material. For example, a film may have a script, performances, music, sound recordings as well as the film itself. Thus one action in relation to the film might infringe the copyright of many different authors and creators.

Who is liable when copyright infringement occurs?

You are not anonymous when you use the Internet. If complaints are received from copyright owners, the University will identify the responsible user and take action to prevent further infringements. This means imposing disciplinary measures, starting with the suspension of access rights.

Professional indemnity cover may not be extended to a staff member whose flagrant disregard of the Copyright Act causes a copyright owner, or a Collecting Society acting on behalf of the copyright owner, to sue the University for infringement of copyright. So staff may be personally liable.

If the copyright owners decide to take legal action against students for copyright infringement, students are personally liable for damages and costs and may be expelled from the University. Monash University will not defend or support students in court if they use Monash resources to carry out unlawful actions.

What are the rights of copyright owners?

The exclusive rights enjoyed by owners of copyright in literary, dramatic and musical works are the rights to do or authorise the following acts:

  • reproduce the work in material form (eg. photocopy, scan)

  • publish the work

  • perform the work in public (eg. recite, perform 'live' music, play recordings of music)

  • to communicate the work (to email and to make available online)

  • make an adaptation of the work (eg. translations, screenplay versions)

  • do any of these acts in relation to an adaptation of the work.

The exclusive rights in relation to artistic works are more limited, and consist of the rights to:

  • reproduce the work in material form

  • publish the work

  • communicate the work.

The exclusive rights in relation to sound recordings and cinematographic films are:

  • to make a copy of the sound recording/film

  • to cause the sound recording/film to be heard or seen in public

  • to communicate the sound recording/film to the public

  • in relation to sound recordings - to enter into a commercial rental arrangement in respect of the recording.

The exclusive rights in relation to television and sound broadcasts are:

  • in the case of a television broadcast in so far as it consists of visual images - to make a cinematographic film of the broadcast, or a copy of such a film

  • in the case of a sound broadcast, or of a television broadcast so far as it consists of sounds - to make a sound recording of the broadcast, or a copy of such a sound recording

  • in the case of a television or a sound broadcast - to re-broadcast it or communicate it to the public otherwise than by broadcasting it.

The one exclusive right in relation to a published edition of a work is to make a facsimile copy of the edition.

Isn't everything online copyright free?

Being online doesn't mean something is in the 'public domain' even though it may be available to the public. The term 'public domain' has a particular legal meaning and indicates that a work is out of copyright or does not attract copyright. Unless there is a specific statement indicating that a work is 'in the public domain' you can't assume that a website or its content has no copyright.

The Internet is NOT a copyright-free zone and the University can identify you when you use the internet. If you infringe copyright on Monash computer accounts or email, you could face disciplinary measures, starting with the suspension of access rights.